US says North Korea pulled out meeting with Pence

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence

North Korean officials decided “at the last minute” not to meet US Vice President Mike Pence during his visit to South Korea for the opening of the Olympics, the US State Department said Tuesday.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the possibility of a brief meeting with the North Korean delegation leaders arose, and Pence was “ready to take this opportunity to drive home the necessity of North Korea abandoning its illicit ballistic missile and nuclear programmes.”

Nauert added in a statement that the US regretted North Korea’s “failure to seize this opportunity.”

Pence agreed to the meeting even before leaving for his trip, the Washington Post reported. It said the meeting was to be held in secret and was to take place on February 10.

But less than two hours before Pence and his team were set to meet with Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and Kim Yong Nam, the regime’s nominal head of state, the North Koreans pulled out, the Post reported, quoting Pence’s office.

Pence used his trip to repeat the US denouncement of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and to announce new sanctions against the regime. He was accompanied by the father of student Otto Warmbier, who died shortly after returning to the US after being imprisoned in North Korea for 15 months.

Nauert said the United States would not apologize for calling attention to human rights abuses or for mourning Warmbier’s death.

“We will not allow North Korea’s attendance at the Winter Olympics to conceal the true nature of the regime and the need for the world to remain united in the face of its illicit weapons programmes,” she said.

The campaign to deepen North Korea’s diplomatic and economic isolation will continue until Pyongyang agrees to “talks on a way forward to a denuclearized Korean peninsula,” Nauert said.

The day after the meeting between Pence and the North Koreans failed to take place, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, through his sister, invited South Korean President Moon Jae In to Pyongyang to begin talks.